Inspector Lewis: Counter Culture Blues on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: Counter Culture Blues © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Series III of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery begins on Sunday, August 29th with Counter Culture Blues. Duct tapped in rock and roll excess, deception, greed, and of course murder, Lewis and Hathaway investigate the death of a young boy that is somehow linked to the late 1960’s rock and roll band Midnight Addiction. Joanna Lumley guest stars as the lead singer presumed to have committed suicide thirty-five years ago but reappears to reform the band for one last hurrah, before they are too old, too drugged out, or dead. Here is the PBS synopsis:

Loud gunshots on a local estate interrupt an Oxford church service, and Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) and Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are stirred from their quiet Sunday plans to investigate. The estate owner is an aging rock star, Richie Maguire (David Hayman), part of an iconic band from Lewis’s youth. The offending gunfire is the least of the chaos on the estate. Esme Ford (Joanna Lumley), the band’s singer long presumed dead, has just resurfaced. And, Lewis suspects that Lucas (Tom Kane) an orphan boy has recently died just outside the estate gates. As Lewis remembers his rock-and-roll youth, the violence escalates. Yet, these fading rockers don’t seem capable of much of anything, much less murder. It will take the inspiration of Inspector Morse to sort out the true suspects from the rock stars.

Sex, drugs, rock and roll. When they are generated by a rock band there is usually quite a bit of money involved, and as any mystery aficionado worth their Agatha Christie collection knows, money is always a great motive for murder. This clever story idea by Nick Dear (Persuasion) and screenplay by Guy Andrews (Lost in Austen) gives us an inside look at an iconic rock band whose colorful members have secrets, indiscretions and major brain damage from years of excess – but capable of murder? Nah. I had the murdered figured out the moment of his entrance. But it was still fun to be taken on such a nostalgic ride. Seeing Inspector Lewis agog and glassy eyed over these rockers from his youth was funny and lead to great opportunities for classic zingers by Sergeant Hathaway who is always good for a bit of sarcasm. After they meet rock star Richie Maguire on his estate, Lewis is aglow with awe and nostalgia, but observant Hathaway witnesses an unsafely stored firearm and recreational drugs that could get them arrested. Lewis’ defensive reaction:

RL: Why would I want to nick them?

JH: Give you an excuse to come back. Someone’s got to look after your social life sir.

And later on…

JH: Oh the cheerful promiscuity of your generation sir. It takes your breath away.

It did, but this episode did not. There was so much irony and parody that I had a hard time feeling any sense of seriousness in the four murders, yes four. There were more than a few plot holes that even after second and third viewing left big gaps in the logic and motives of the murderer. What did shine, and brightly, was the outstanding cast of guest stars. The Midnight Addiction band members were spot on. Just visualize any of the late 1960-70’s British rock bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, and think about what they would look, and act like thirty-five years later. David Hayman as drummer Richie Maguire, Anthony Higgins as lead guitar Franco, Hilton McRae as Mack Maguire on bass guitar and Joanna Lumley as lead singer Esme Ford (whose singing was nails on the black board time) were all so eccentrically excessive that is bordered on silly. But who cared. This was not a serious mystery. More of a psychedelic haze of an Inspector Lewis mystery turned comedy.

Kudos to Perdita Weeks (Lydia Bennet in Lost in Austen)  as the wide eyed Maguire daughter Kitten blackmailed by a sleazy fellow Oxford student Peter (Harry Lloyd), and Simon Callow, who made rock manager Simon Oxe so flamboyant and over-the-top that I will never be able to think about men’s sock garters again without giggling.

RL: You know what I’m doing? I’m going to think like Morse.

JH: Does that mean we are going to the pub?

Watch Counter Culture Blues online through September 12th, 210 at the new PBS Video website. Next week’s episode The Dead of Winter stars Nathaniel Parker (Vanity Fair) and, get ready, here it comes — Hathaway gets a romance!

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE